Life changes. A big change for us was quitting the farmer’s market business. The children had grown up, leaving us with all the work. Obviously it was time to end that season of our life.
Some of the garden space was planted to grass, trees and bushes. But there was still more left than what we wanted to plant to garden. My two sisters who had married city fellers were interested in larger gardens than their town lots allowed.
We all thought this was a good idea and it has worked well for the last two years. I get to see my sisters and their families more, which I really am enjoying. And they get to come out the farm. That appears to be more important than growing and eating the fresh vegetables and fruit.
I would see my sister, just stop by a tractor for no reason other than just to listen. A melody of bird songs fills the summer sky. My younger nephew and nieces would often hop from the apple tree with ripe apples, to the plum tree and pluck the fresh fruit. They discovered the grapes, raspberries and strawberries too.
When given permission to feed the cows, they jumped on the opportunity to find every weed they could or unneeded vegetable to feed to the cows which came running anticipating rewards.
A most exciting day was when the hen hatched out eleven baby chicks. She was given her own small shed. If darkness hadn’t descended, and the mother hen hadn’t clucked all her babies to find shelter under her wings, they probably would have stayed longer.
When the founding fathers envisioned the United States of America, they saw a republic of many small farmers, craftsmen, and business men who were independent owners of their means of production.
And it was pretty much that way for the first one hundred years. After the Civil War things changed. Large corporations began to grow, wealth and control was leaving the hands of many into the hands of fewer and fewer people. This is what the founding fathers did not want to happen. They had come to America from countries where there were classes of people. Mobility from one class to another rarely happened. Land ownership was practically impossible.
I don’t know if the trend towards bigger and bigger farming operations can ever be changed. Large farms can do the job, and many of their owners are very, very nice people doing an excellent job. But I ask myself would it better for the families in our country if we once again became a nation of small business and farm owners?
Will herbicide resistant weeds bring back the need to cultivate? If so, that could be a blessing in disguise, as cultivating has a short time frame for getting done and is about as tedious as milking cows twice, three times a day. Robots have been slowly been changing the dairyman’s life. He and his family aren’t as tied to the barn schedule as they once were.
Is the notion that we want to know where are food comes from, a desire for food that has a certain taste, and is freer from antibiotics going to bring about a revolution in how our food is grown, making it possible for farm families to build a business with their own brand.
Our farm has been a destination for city cousins through the years. It can’t be us that draw them, for we aren’t the most personable. Our house is old, built in the 1935 with little work done inside since the previous owners remodeled in the 1960’s. Guests have to put up with sharing a bathroom and a shower in the old unfinished basement.
Visitors don’t come because we are close to a national park or a famed tourist attraction. It definitely isn’t the leisure time they find here. Rather, whatever job we happen to be doing, they lend a helping hand in picking and shelling bushels of peas, canning eight dozen jars of beans, painting a farm building, or weeding endless rows of potatoes.
No, there is something more that draws them here. It has to do with the sunrise God gloriously displays every morning, the holding of baby chicks, watching a calf get nourishment from its mother, knowing they can run almost everywhere they want to on our farm. Or climb a tree to read a book.
There is something special about the smile of a twelve year old boy eating potatoes that he has dug all by himself for the dozen people sitting around the dinner table. A fresh bouquet of flowers handpicked by a five year old becomes the table’s centerpiece.
They watch the killdeer with interest do his protective scolding and walk trying to draw you away from their nest. The meadowlark’s song is heard when walking to the mailbox at the end of the driveway.
After supper one more round of livestock chores provides the opportunity to watch the sun set in the west. Fireflies light up the sky. Soon the restful sounds of the night come, bullfrogs croaking from the small creek that runs through the land. In the distance an owl hoots. Refreshing breezes come in through the open windows as the last prayer of the day is uttered.
This is the culture that we lose when landowners choose not to give young farmers a helping hand.
(To be continued in future columns.).
Renae B. Vander Schaaf, freelance writer, lives on a real working farm in northwest Iowa, and authored a book titled "A Place Of Refuge". Contact her at [email protected].